Derek Kilmer can look forward to a lot of five-hour airplane flights.
He’s about to become a congressman, but his wife, Jennifer, and two young daughters, Sophie and Tess, will stay put in Gig Harbor. Jennifer is executive director of the Washington State Historical Society.
Derek Kilmer took the first of his trips to Washington, D.C., last week to get a crash course on the Capitol along with the rest of the freshman class that will take office in January, a group that also includes Denny Heck, another Democrat elected to represent parts of Pierce County.
Kilmer met with senior Democrats on committees that interest him, a wish list that includes Transportation and Infrastructure as well as Armed Services. Kilmer talked to Washington’s Republican lawmakers, including the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane.
“I think there’s a sense that there are challenges that are going to take both parties getting together to find solutions,” Kilmer said by phone. “I found generally everyone’s been very welcoming.”
The centrist New Democrat Coalition inducted Kilmer during his orientation. He joins Heck of Olympia, Reps. Rick Larsen of Everett and Adam Smith of Bellevue, and another Washington newcomer, Suzan DelBene of Medina, in the coalition.
Kilmer replaces 18-term U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks as representative for the 6th District, which includes Tacoma and the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.
He joins a gridlocked Congress that hasn’t displayed much bipartisanship lately.
Voters kept Republicans in charge of the House, expanded Democrats’ majority in the Senate and re-elected President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Kilmer said the election results demonstrated people are tired of partisanship and want politicians of all stripes to work together.
One vote of confidence comes from his election opponent. Bill Driscoll said the two parties have to put aside partisanship.
“Derek’s a good, smart guy. He can help do that – if he doesn’t get caught up in the politics,” said Driscoll, a Tacoma Republican and real estate investment firm executive.
Driscoll was a first-time candidate who says he doesn’t expect to run again. He said he doesn’t see anything he could have done differently that would have changed the outcome – especially since he fell far short with 41 percent of the vote. “I got shellacked,” he said.
Driscoll said he has “zero regrets” and wishes Kilmer well.
Kilmer, who has left his job at the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and will resign from his seat in the state Senate, has yet to name his congressional staff.
He said orientation week has gone “1,000 miles per hour” with lessons on ethics; practical workplace tips; committees; issues facing Congress such as the so-called “fiscal cliff”; and advice from his new colleagues (a common tip: focus on solving constituent problems).
“They’ve been all over the place,” George Behan, Dicks’ chief of staff, said Thursday of the freshmen. “They don’t have much time. You get the keys to your office on the morning of the 3rd of January, you’re sworn in at noon that day, and the phone is ringing with constituents calling with questions on your positions on the fiscal cliff or Libya policy.
“Derek is probably feeling like he’s drinking from a firehose.”Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826